William Cooper Nell was born on
this date. He was a black lecturer, journalist, and historian.
From Boston, he
was the son of William and Louise Cooper. A frequent reader of William Lloyd
Garrison’s, “Liberator,” Nell joined the cause of the antislavery movement. He
began working for the Liberator newspaper in the 1840’s. At many of the
antislavery functions in Boston,
he was Garrison’s personal representative. He became active in the Underground
Railroad, until ill health forced him to withdraw.
In 1851 he became an assistant to Frederick Douglass and soon after published
his own pamphlet on “Colored American Patriots” in the Revolution and the War
of 1812. This evolved into the book for which he is best known. Nell drew his
stories from personal accounts, cemetery records, and research. His book
includes an introduction by abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe. Nell has been
credited with saving the stories of many Black soldiers from obscurity.
His description of the first martyr to the Revolution, Chrispus Attucks,
brought a key Black figure into American history but his efforts to have a
monument erected to Attucks was unsuccessful in 1851. In protest to the Dred
Scott decision, Nell organized the very first Crispus Attucks celebration in America. After
the war ended, Nell became a party in identifying the efforts of the Black
soldiers in the Civil War. Nell is considered by Carter Goodwin Woodson to be
the first African-American historian.
Nell is also is acknowledged to be the first federal employee of the United States,
having been employed in the Boston Post Office in 1863. He died May 25, 1874.
George Ruffin is born in Richmond, Virginia.
He will be the first African American to obtain a law degree from Harvard University and will be a lifelong
champion for African American suffrage and equality.
chieftain Dingaan is defeated by
the Boers in South Africa.
Shields Green and John Anthony Copeland, two of five African American
freedom fighters, are hanged for their participation in John Brown’s raid on
Harper’s Ferry. Copeland will be led to the gallows shouting “I am dying for
freedom. I could not die for a better cause. I had rather die than be a slave.”
It was on
this day that the last slave ship
dropped anchor in U.S.
waters. Although the importation of Africans as slaves had been banned
approximately 50 years earlier, Africans were illegally imported right up until
the time of the Civil War. The last slave ship was known as the Clothilde and it landed at Mobile Bay, AL.
The Colored Methodist Church of America is established at
The organization will change its name in 1954 to the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church. The denomination
will grow to include approximately 3,000 congregations.
Charles Caldwell, a militant
African American militia officer, joins the ancestors, after being assassinated
in Clinton, Mississippi.
Alabama A&M College, Knoxville College, and Lane College are established.
Governor Daniel H. Chamberlain, acting in
concert with white Democrats and conservatives, refuses to resign his
William J. Whippers is elected judge
of the circuit court of Charleston
by the South Carolina General Assembly.
Methodist Episcopal Church was founded in Jackson, TN.
this date, Andy Razaf was born.
He was an African-American composer, musical lyricist, poet, and a major
influence in black theater during the 1920’s.
Born Andrianmanantena Paul Razafinkarefo (also
Razafkeriefo), in Washington, DC, he was the son of Henri
Razafkeriefo, the nephew of Queen Ranavalona III of Madagascar and Jennie
(Waller) Razafkeriefo, the daughter of John Louis Walker. John L. Walker, a
former slave, became the first African American counsel to that country. The
French invasion of 1895 left his father dead and forced his 15 year old mother
to escape with the young Andy to the United States. Raised in Harlem, at
the age of 16, Andy quit school and took a job as an elevator operator at a Tin
Pan Alley office building, then as a butler, and, then as a custodian to in
order to help bring money into the home. A year later at the age of 17, he
penned his first song text, Baltimo, which was sung by members of “The Passing
Show of 1913” at Winter Garden, NY, embarking on his career as a lyricist. Some
of Razaf’s early poems were published 1917 – 1918 in the Hubert Harrison-edited
“Voice,” the first newspaper of the “New Negro Movement.”
moved to Cleveland to become a semi-professional baseball pitcher for a Negro
team. In 1921, he returned to New York, briefly playing for the New York Black
Sox, but soon was able to make a living as a songwriter.
year later came his first important lyrical contribution with Joe Hurtig’s
Social Maids Show. During the 1920’s Razaf was a true fixture of Harlem’s
nightclub scene, collaborating with many notable composers and players, Willie
“the Lion” Smith, Eubie Blake (with whom he wrote Memories of You),
James P. Johnson and others. It was at this time that Razaf met and became
friends with Fats Waller (no relation).
collaborated not only with Smith, Blake, James P. Johnson, and Waller, but also
with composers, Paul Denniker, Don Redman, J.C. Johnson, and Harry Brooks. He
also added lyrics to instrumental hits such as Stompin’ at the Savoy, Christopher
Columbus, and In the Mood. Together, with his friend Fat Waller,
they wrote some of the most renowned popular songs of the twentieth century. Among
the best known Razaf-Waller collaborations are The Joint is Jumpin’ (1938),
Ain’t Misbehavin’, Honeysuckle Rose, Willow Tree, Blue
Turning Grey over You (1929), Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now (1932), My
Fate Is in Your Hands (1928), and (What Did I Do to be So) Black and
Blue. One of the duo’s most famous songs, What Did I Do to be So Black
and Blue (1929), displayed Razaf’s longstanding concern with racial
injustice. Although Louis Armstrong’s influential version interpreted the song
in terms of white racism towards African-Americans, Razaf’s original lyrics
were also directed at interracial bias against darker-skinned blacks.
music was played by other Tin Pan Alley muscians, as well as Benny Goodman, Cab
Calloway, and many others. He was a contributor and editor of the UNIA’s Negro
World newspaper. Many of Razaf’s lyrics provide an African American perspective
on America. Through their sharp observation of social and racial issues,
Razaf’s lyrics give an inside look at life in New York City in the first half
of the 20th century. In 1972, at seventy-six years of age, Andy
Razaf, the most prolific black lyricist of 20th century popular
music, was finally recognized by his Tin Pan Alley peers in the Songwriters
Hall of Fame.
The greatest vocalist and players of jazz and popular music of the roaring
twenties and 1930’s performed Razaf’s music. AfterTan Manhattan (1940),
Razaf moved to Englewood, New Jersey, where he failed at an attempt to enter
politics. He moved to Los Angeles, living the remainder of his live in relative
obscurity. Andy Razaf died of kidney disease on February 3, 1973.
John Edward Jacobs is born in Trout,
Louisiana and will be raised in Houston, Texas. Jacobs will serve the National
Urban League in many capacities and in 1982 will replace Vernon E. Jordan, Jr.
as its president.
Augusta Savage, sculptress, is
commissioned to sculpt a piece for the 1939 New York World’s Fair. The
sculpture is to symbolize the African American contribution to the field of
music. It is the first such commission given to an African American.
coining honoring an African American and designed by Isaac Hathaway, an outstanding African American ceramists
and sculptor, is issued by the U.S. Bureau of the Mint. The fifty-cent piece
contains the bust of Booker T. Washington.
William “The Refrigerator” Perry is born. He will
become an NFL defensive lineman with the Chicago Bears. He will be best known
for his occasional performance as a running back on short yardage situations.
Wilt Chamberlain of the NBA
Philadelphia 76ers scores 68 points against the Chicago Bulls.
single season rushing record in the NFL is smashed by O.J. Simpson. Brown rushed for 1,863 yards, while Simpson ran for 2,003 yards.
Andrew Young was nominated by President Jimmy Carter to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations on this day. Young, serving
his third term in Congress from Georgia, resigned his seat to take the post. He
became the first Black appointee in the Carter Administration and first Black
to fill the U.N. post for the U.S. He served in the post from 1977 to 1979. As
ambassador Young was in on top-level discussions of major foreign policies and
had some hand in shaping them. A graduate of Howard University and Hartford
Theological Seminary, he was ordained in the United Church of Christ and served
as a pastor of churches in Alabama and Georgia. In addition to serving in
Congress, Young fought for civil rights with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as
executive vice president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC)
and served as mayor of Atlanta. The New Orleans native chronicled his life in
An Easy Burden: The Civil Rights Movement and the Transformation of America.
Jean-Bertrand Aristide is elected
president of Haiti in the country’s first democratic elections.
beginning of the Northern
Neck Chantey Singers is celebrated on this date.
They are a choral singing group specializing in Chantey singing by black
menhaden fishermen. They tell of a tradition that was little known, probably
because chanteys were sung only at sea by men working in a specialized fishing
industry with only two centers of production: Reedville, Virginia and Beaufort,
North Carolina. Chanteys were uncommon in American commercial fisheries, and
Menhaden Chanteys are for the most part unrelated to traditional and better
known, “sea chanteys” that flourished among the crews of 19th
century American and British transatlantic sailing ships.
On the Northern Neck region of Virginia, a peninsula lying between the
Rappahannock and Potomac rivers, this group of men in their 70s and 80s has
been keeping alive an uncommon legacy of African-American work songs sung on
the water. As young men, they worked aboard fishing boats where they pulled up
by hand nets teeming with menhaden from the waters of the Chesapeake and
Atlantic. From long rowboats, as many as 40 men hauled in a “purse seine,” a
net filled with thousands of pounds of fish. To accomplish this backbreaking
feat, they sang what were called “chanteys” to coordinate their movements.
These fishermen’s work songs could have been heard on boats out of Virginia and
North Carolina wherever they pursued the great migrating schools of menhaden
along the Atlantic coast, from New Jersey to the Gulf of Mexico. William
Hudnall organized the Northern Neck Chantey Singers at the request of the
Greater Reedville Association and the Association’s Museum Committee. There
were two groups of Menhaden Chantey singers performing in North Carolina and
the Association hoped to find some singers in Virginia for the 1991 July 4th
Since that Independence Day debut, interest in the group has been so great that
they are still performing to this day. The singers are retired black water men
from Northumberland County who worked in the menhaden fishery over a 50-year
period beginning in the 1930s, for the oldest of them, and into the 1980s for
some of the younger men. All of them worked on the water during the time when
chanteys were sung. Chanteys and work songs in general, occupy a special place
in African-American culture.
The song’s function is to make work go better. In the case of the menhaden
fishermen, the songs rhythmically coordinated the efforts of hauling in the
nets to bring fish to the surface. The harmony brings everybody together on the
same chord at the same time, making the work easier.
this date, Colin Powell was
appointed as United States Secretary of State. Accepting President-elect George
W. Bush’s nomination to be the America’s 65th Secretary of State,
Powell became the first African-American to hold that position.
Powell, as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff presided over Operation Desert
Storm during the Persian Gulf War in 1991. He said, “If you want to be
successful in the 21st century, you must find your path to
democracy, market economics and a system which frees the talents of men and
women to pursue their individual destinies.”
this date, hate crimes continued against blacks in Minnesota.
A racist message was spray-painted on a wall outside the Mediterranean
Restaurant and Grocery in St. Cloud, Minnesota. “Get
out of St. Cloud Nigger” was the message and it clearly was intended
for the shop’s Somali proprietor. Ismail Mohamed, 23,
manager of the restaurant was the latest target in a series of hate-based
A racist slogan was spray-painted a month earlier in the small Minnesota
community outside a building shared by a Somali store and a Somali activist
group. On another night, a small shed in back was burned.
this date, H.R. 3491 was signed
into law. This began the movement of the National
Museum of African-American History and Culture Act. Penned by
President George W. Bush in the Oval Office the act authorizes the creation of
a Smithsonian Institution museum dedicated to the legacy of African Americans
in America.The bill also states that a site should be selected within 12
months. The museum could be opened by 2013.
this date, actor Morgan Freeman dismissed
America’s Black History Month as “ridiculous”.
Freeman, who won 2005’s best supporting actor Oscar for Million Dollar Baby,
said he hoped to see an end to the annual series of events in February. “Black
history is American history,” Freeman said in a BBC interview; Freeman also
said the only way to end racism was to “stop talking about it”.
Now 68 years old, he called for an end to the use of the words “black” and “white”,
“I am going to stop calling you a white man and I’m going to ask you to stop
calling me a black man. I don’t want a black history month. You’re going to
relegate my history to a month?”
Black History Month, held every February, was established in 1976 as part of
the US bicentennial celebrations. It has its origins in Negro History Week,
which began in 1926. The founder of the week of celebrations, historian Carter
G Woodson, said he hoped it would end when black history became fundamental to